|London is alive with new construction and restoration
projects, transforming buildings of every sort into beautiful restored
examples of Victorian, Edwardian, and Georgian masterpieces that they
once were. One of the most successful examples of this renaissance is
in Bloomsbury, the district which evokes memories of London's early
20th-century literary life.
Located in the city's famed West End, best known for
its theaters, itís actually north of Buckingham Palace and
Piccadilly and centers around Bloomsbury Square just off Great Russell
Street. Itís an area long known for its writers, including Charles
Dickens, James Boswell, Henry Fielding and Virginia Wolfe. Later on,
its theaters attracted a different sort of person as playwrights and
actors chose to live near their stages.
Bloomsbury is an elegant area of green squares and
gardens. Originally, its houses were some of the finest in the city.
Each residence backing on to a square had a key to the fence that
surrounded it, and servants could be seen in the late afternoon
setting up tables and chairs in the gardens so that their employers
could have tea amid the trees and flowers.
Bloomsbury square, the centerpiece of the area, is a
quiet retreat from the noise of Shaftbury Avenue, one block away.
Along one side on Great Russell Street is the row of houses used in
the film, "Oliver Twist." Their Edwardian exteriors are like
others in the area. In fact, without signs, itís difficult to
realize that you are in a large city, since the feeling here is more
like that of a suburban village.
The most famous landmark in the area is the British
Museum, one of the biggest and best of its kind in the world.
Priceless collections, focusing on much of the world's great art, are
housed in a massive building dating back to the mid-19th century. Itís
best to take a guided tour to get your bearings, especially if you
have limited time.
Be sure to see the Elgin Marbles, the famous friezes
from the Parthenon brought to England by Lord Elgin. Another must see
is the splendid Egyptian collection snatched from Napolean Bonaparte
after the Battle of Aboukir, in which Nelson defeated the French fleet
in 1798. Actually, if you haven't the money to visit all the ancient
places, a tour here would be just as good.
Everywhere you look some sort of restoration is
going on. Elegant townhouses from the Edwardian and Georgian eras,
shabby with time, are receiving new faces. Instead of fine old English
families, their interiors now house luxurious apartments and
professional offices. The neighborhood is quiet now, except for the
constant drone of traffic on Shaftsbury Avenue and Oxford Road.
Just across the street from the British Museum is
the Marlborough Crest Hotel, the centerpiece of all the renovation.
Over the last year or so, it has been transformed from a dark, seedy,
sometimes transient hotel known as the Ivanhoe into an Edwardian
marvel. In fact, it was the hotel's rebirth that triggered the
exciting restorations in Bloomsbury today.
An elegant building with a grand Edwardian facade,
the Marlborough Crest is inviting as well as sophisticated. The
interior is filled with rich dark paneling and thick carpeting and
brass so shiny that you can see yourself. It's rooms are varied and
sumptuous, featuring complimentary tea service, hair dryer, trouser
press, and terrycloth bathrobe--amenities found only in higher priced
establishments. Currently, the price is about $150 for a double room
A contest among London's taxi drivers helped renamed
the hotel. Cabbie Ted Mitchell, the winner, said he chose the name
because it conveyed an image of dignified elegance. You can use this
hotel or several othersĖthe Kenilworth, Russell Square, or
Bloomsbury CrestĖas a base while you're in London. Everything you'll
want to see is within walking distance and the Houses of Parliament
and the Tower of London are a short taxi or subway ride away.
Four blocks from the Marlborough Crest is Covent
Garden, once London's fruit, flower and vegetable market and one of
the city's most colorful areas. On the way, stop at the Museum Tavern
on Museum Street, just off Drury Lane, for a pint of ale.
Nostalgia fills Covent Garden. Here the
heroine of Shaw's "Pygmalion" and the musical "My Fair
Lady," Liza Doolittle, peddled her flowers to patrons of the
Royal Opera House. The London Municipal Government moved the original
market to the south side of the Thames, and now a trendy shopping
arcade has taken its place. The Central Market, a triple pavilion
housing fashionable boutiques, unusual shops, unique restaurants and
intimate bistros, has become the focal point of this new development.
Here you'll find a stand selling nothing but socks, another
beautifully hand-made puppets, another Victorian dresses. You can also
sit in one of several cafes and just watch the changing scene.
But the Royal Opera House, home to the Royal Ballet
and the National Opera Company, remains the center of Covent Garden .
If you're in town when theyíre performing, you should make sure you
see one of their performances. Nearby stands the London Transport
Museum with its fine collection of buses, trains and trams.
Historic Haunts of the Famous
Throughout the area, you'll see blue plaques
on the houses. These mark the historic homes of famous people, even
though they may now be occupied by someone else. Bow Street across
from the Opera House boasts no less than seven homes of writers in its
two short blocks! One of them, Henry Fielding, author of the
eighteenth century novel, Tom Jones, became one of English
literature's all-time greats.
One of Bloomsbury's most famous residents was
Charles Dickens. You'll find his only remaining home and museum at 48
Doughty Street, five blocks east of the Marlborough Crest. It was here
that he wrote his most famous novel, Oliver Twist. Plaques mark
all of the other homes he occupied throughout his career in the
North and east of Covent Garden on Houghton Street
is the Old Curiosity Shop. It isnít certain whether Dickens based
his novel of the same name on this antique shop, but he knew it well.
A walk down Russell Street from your hotel will
bring you to many of the coffeehouses of the 18th century. Dr. Samuel
Johnson and James Boswell, his biographer, first met in a bookshop at
No. 8 in 1763. You can now take time out and have a cup of coffee in
this famous shop.
As far as restaurants go, Bloomsbury offers a glut
of eateries. Here, you'll find everything from traditional English
fare to the most delicious novelle cuisine. Stop in at the White Hart
at 191 Drury Lane to sample their extensive range of bar food at
lunchtime. First licensed in 1201, itís the oldest pub in Covent
Garden and perhaps even in London.
In the evenings, there's always the theater. Whether
you prefer the Broadway style of musicals or the rich depth of
traditional English plays, you'll find more than you can imagine in
Bloomsbury. However, today, the cost of seats for some performances
rival those along New York Broadway.
Youíll find Bloomsbury one of the safest
neighborhoods for after-theater strolls. Since few people actually
live there anymore, thereís virtually no crime and the streets are
well lit. What a romantic way to end your stay in London.